My New Year’s Resolution: Striving With God – Ecclesiastes 1:12-14

“I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:12-14, ESV).

The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes is presumably written by King Solomon, king over Israel, in his old age. In this treatise Solomon proffers a philosophical perspective of life that advances the notion that much of human life on Earth is occupied with striving after what’s not really so important in life after all.

Solomon observes that it’s like spending your life chasing after the wind. And, in case his point doesn’t resonate with the reader the first time, he repeats this thought eight more times!

Striving seems to be in our DNA. It’s what we human beings do. We strive after happiness. We strive for health and long life. We strive after success. We strive for money. We strive for love and friendship. We strive over political ideologies and religious beliefs. We strive with one another for dominance and control.

Striving….it’s human nature!

In Genesis 32 Jacob wrestles with an angel (or a theophany). While they wrestled, the angelic man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it (isn’t that cheating?). But even with a dislocated hip Jacob continued to wrestle with Him and would not let go until He promised to bless Jacob: “But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed’” (Genesis 32:26-28, ESV).

God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means “strives with God” and reaffirmed His covenant with Jacob, now Israel. From Jacob’s descendants came the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, whose history as recorded in the Old Testament is certainly one of striving with God.

Striving with God is Israel’s story. And Israel’s story is humanity’s story. As Solomon aptly states, striving is the business God has given to human beings. Striving is the story of our human  existence. We human beings strive with one another and with God.

But, what if more of our striving was concentrated on striving after God?

What if we stopped striving so much after the unimportant things of this world and we prayed, read the Bible and sought God’s will unrelentingly?

Could we be transformed from Jacob, the deceiver, the embezzler of his father’s blessing, to Israel, the striver with God, the receiver of God’s blessing?

So, my New Year’s Resolution for 2019 is this: to strive more with God…. and less with men!

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)

The Great Give Away – Acts 3:6

“Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, ‘Look at us!’ The lame man looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, ‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!’” (Acts 3:4-6, NLT).

Since it’s the Christmas season, I think this gift-giving story of a different sorts is appropriate.

One day Peter and John went to the Temple for the afternoon prayer service. There was a man who had been lame for more than forty years (vs. 4:22) laying at the Temple gate begging for money.

As Peter and John were about to enter the Temple, the man asked them for money. Peter explained that he didn’t have any money to give the man, but he would give the man what he did have, which was the gift of healing in the name of Jesus Christ.

The man was instantly and undeniably cured and he jumped up and down excitedly and praised God (vs. 8). When all the people coming to the Temple saw and heard the formerly lame beggar, they were amazed and began to gather in the Temple.

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An Inconvenient Truth: Part 2 – Deuteronomy 17:1

“You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 17:1, ESV).

God instructed the Israelites to use the highest quality animals in their herds as sacrifices. If God didn’t designate any standards for the livestock, the Israelites would likely use the ones with blemishes or defects for sacrifices!

They would use the ones of lowest quality–the ones most convenient and practicable for them to use.

But God wanted the best livestock for sacrifices to Him, the ones that required a sacrifice on the part of the sacrificer.

Because the fidelity of the sacrifice indicates the fidelity of the sacrificer.

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An Inconvenient Truth: Part 1 – Deuteronomy 17:1

“You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 17:1, ESV).

This verse may at first seem like an Old Testament commandment that has little relevance for Christians today. I would submit, however, that it is a commandment of God that has much relevance for God’s people of all generations.

Let’s start by asking why God would require the Israelites to sacrifice only oxen or sheep without any physical defects when they made a sacrifice to God. What difference did it make to God since the animal was going to be killed and cooked or burned up anyway?

While there are several theological principles you could derive from this Old Testament commandment, here’s the one I want to address:

The fidelity of the sacrifice indicates the fidelity of the sacrificer.

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Armed and Dangerous – Numbers 32

“And the people of Gad and the people of Reuben answered, ‘What the Lord has said to your servants, we will do. We will pass over armed before the Lord into the land of Canaan, and the possession of our inheritance shall remain with us beyond the Jordan'” (Numbers 32:31-32, ESV).

In Numbers 32 the Israelites are preparing for the conquest of the promised land. The people of the tribes of Reuben and Gad requested that Moses allow them to settle in lands on the east side of the Jordan River, which was not within the boundaries of the promised land. They wanted to settle east of the Jordan because they owned large herds of livestock and there was good grazing land there.

At first Moses resisted their request pointing out that they were disobeying God just like their fathers who died during their forty-year wandering in the wilderness because they rebelled against the plan to possess the land God had promised.

So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad struck a deal with Moses that they would settle their families and livestock on the east side of the Jordan but their fighting men would take up arms and lead in the battles against the inhabitants of the land until all the people groups in the land of Canaan were subdued. If they stayed until the war in Canaan was over, then the lands on the east side of the Jordan would be their inheritance.

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Never Met A Man I Didn’t Like – Numbers 15:13-16

“Every native Israelite shall do these things in this way, in offering a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord. And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you” (Numbers 15:13-16, ESV).

Will Rogers is a folk-hero of mine and of many of my fellow “Okies.” One of his most well-known sayings is this: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Will Rogers endeavored to affirm the humanity of people–even those he didn’t know–by treating them with respect and good will.

In these verses from Numbers God seems to have a similar perspective about human beings–God never met a person He didn’t love!

Numbers 15, which describes laws for offering and sacrifice, is inserted between the stories of two rebellions: Israel’s refusal to enter the promised land in Chapter 14 and the rebellion led by Korah against Moses’ leadership in Chapter 16. After the Israelites’ rebellion in Chapter 14 God had determined to destroy the Hebrew nation. Upon Moses’ intercession God sentenced the Exodus generation of Israelites to perish in the wilderness.

So, Chapter 15 marks the point where the plan for entering the promised land became the punishment of wandering in the wilderness for the next 40 years. It indicates the beginning of the end of the Exodus generation who rebelled against Moses’ leadership to enter the promised land. Perhaps the Chapter 15 worship statutes are an appeal by God for the next generation to be reconciled to Him despite the severe punishment He had imposed.

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Going Up – Philippians 3:12-20

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, ESV).

In the book of Philippians the Apostle Paul highlighted the need for advancement or progress in one’s Christian life by inciting the Philippians to “work out their own salvation” (vs. 2:12) and then by rallying them to follow his example and “press on toward the goal” (vs 3:14).

It’s as if living their Christian lives was like participating in a footrace. And, the finish line for this race was not ahead but up!

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